Working at a Mall Has Never Been More Worthwhile

How we discovered retail internships, and why they are a great choice for some CET Shanghai students.

For many students, notions of stocking inventory, operating a cash register, or helping shoppers find the right shirt size conjure up memories of a part-time job they held at the mall during high school. But take that same list of mundane tasks and align them with study abroad, and all of a sudden you’ve landed on the ultimate internship experience: retail.

We only recently added retail to our extensive list of internship possibilities at CET Shanghai. In fact, the idea was born out of a collaboration with Professor John Crespi, Luce Associate Professor of Chinese at Colgate University, while we were designing Colgate’s China Study Group program, operating this semester. While all CET internships are accompanied by an internship course that merges academic context with on-the-job experience, Professor Crespi sought internships that would also provide his students extensive Chinese language practice and rich involvement in Chinese society. Our discussions with Professor Crespi led us straight to retail. Why?

Because working in a Chinese store offers the chance to interact with locals under the widest array of circumstances. In a retail position, you receive Chinese-style training from a Chinese manager while standing alongside Chinese co-workers. You follow your co-workers from the break room to the floor to the break room again, and watch how their language, demeanor, and body language changes. You greet all sorts of customers, each of whom asks a different question, using a different speech style, with a different accent. Unlike an office internship, where much of the work may happen while sitting in front of a computer in relative silence, retail gets you up and about, talking, moving, and engaging with others, all within a Chinese context. (Read how retail internships are going for two students.)

Many students come to CET Shanghai with a firm idea of the field, or even the company, in which they’d like to intern. Other students come to CET Shanghai ready to intern, but less inspired by linguistic immersion. To these students, we will continue to do what we do best in Shanghai—find each student an internship that is the perfect fit for them. But thanks to our experience this semester, to those students who are excited by Chinese language and open to steep challenges, we will encourage them to consider retail. It’s a gutsy choice on a less-traveled path and, we believe, will be the winning story to tell at any job interview.